STARKVILLE – The ball keeps finding Vick Ballard, and he keeps finding the end zone.
Mississippi State’s by-committee approach at tailback is becoming more of a hand-it-to-Ballard approach. Heading into today’s game against Alcorn State, the junior college transfer has rushed for 165 yards on 36 carries, second on the team to quarterback Chris Relf.
Over the past two games, Ballard has led all MSU tailbacks with 24 carries, and he gained 64 rushing yards and scored twice in last week’s 24-12 win over Georgia.
Robert Elliott had just one carry in the game, while LaDarius Perkins had four.
“I think he’s getting better each week,” running backs coach Greg Knox said. “And that’s why you’ve seen his production slowly increase, because now he’s starting to really figure this out, going from junior college to SEC.”
Head coach Dan Mullen insists it’s not been a conscious effort on the part of the coaches to get Ballard the ball more often; that’s just the way it’s played out in the tailback rotation.
Mullen said the option game has something to do with it, noting that “the defense is dictating who gets the ball, and that’s dictating it more than anything else.”
There’s no denying who’s number is called more near the goal line. Ballard has rushed for five touchdowns in addition to a 13-yard TD reception against Georgia, which was basically a running play because Relf pitched it forward to him on the option.
Ballard has a 51-yard touchdown run, but his other four touchdowns are all 1-yard runs. At 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, he’s no bigger than Elliott (6-0, 215), but he’s a better and stronger runner between the tackles.
On a key 93-yard scoring drive against Georgia, Ballard converted a fourth-and-1.
“He runs physical, he’s done a good job running the ball,” Mullen said. “I was pleased on fourth-and-1, just to watch his run, not trying to do anything special, just had a great low pad level, driving off the ball to get the first down.”
Ballard joined the Bulldogs after a stellar career at Gulf Coast Community College, and his adjustment to SEC ball has been fairly smooth. He said getting more carries of late has helped.
“It does. Because you get to see your lanes open up more, so it helps a lot,” he said.
Ballard’s emergence is a big reason MSU is starting to find an offensive identity in the run game. On its three touchdown drives against Georgia, State ran the ball a total of 14 times for 102 yards while completing three passes for 65 yards, including a 33-yard TDstrike from Relf to Arceto Clark.
“Very rarely are you going to go on a long drive that doesn’t have a 12-to-15-yard gain in it, or two 12-to-15-yard gains along the way,” Mullen said. “If you run the ball, you’re going to open up some shots down the field throwing.”
Ballard doesn’t worry too much about all that, or about his carries.
“I look at it as whatever can get the job done,” he said. “They just call out the play, and we run it.”
Today’s game at a glance
– Where: Starkville, Davis Wade Stadium (55,082)
– Kickoff: 11 a.m. n Television: FSN.
– Radio: MSU Network; XM 200; Sirius 219.
– Records: Alcorn State 3-0, MSU 2-2.
– Rankings: Both teams unranked.
– Series: First meeting.
– Coaches – Alcorn State: Earnest Collins, 6-6, second year; MSU: Dan Mullen, 7-9, second year.
– Statistical leaders – Alcorn State: QB Brandon Bridge 26-48-3, 392 yards, 2 TDs; RB Gabriel Nash 73-301, 4 TDs; LB Josh Cragin 25 tackles, 2 INTs; LB Herve Tonye-Tonye 20 tackles; MSU: QB Chris Relf 33-57-3, 409 yards, 3 TDs passing, 48-201, 0 TDs rushing; RB Vick Ballard 36-165, 5 TDs; LB K.J. Wright 30 tackles, 6 pass break-ups; LB Chris White 29 tackles, 5.0 TFL.
– Trends: Alcorn State has scored six non-offensive touchdowns: two on punt returns, two on interception returns, two on fumble returns. … A win today would give MSU three consecutive wins against non-SEC teams for the first time since 2007 (Tulane, Gardner-Webb, UAB). … State has converted a fourth down in each of its last three games. … MSU has made fewer first downs than its opponent in each of the last three games. … The Bulldogs have three players with more than 100 yards rushing this season.
– Notes: MSU hasn’t won two straight games in the same season since 2007. … This is the second meeting between an SEC and SWAC school. The other was last year, when MSU beat Jackson State, 45-7. … The Braves lead the SWAC in scoring with 39.3 points per game. … MSU has given up five sacks and recorded five sacks. … This is the first day game of the season for State.
– Summing it up: “We’re going to treat Alcorn like they’re another SEC team.” – MSU linebacker K.J. Wright
– Prediction: MSU, 48-7.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal